Truckers who are passionate about the shortcomings of the current safety measurement program used by the feds, may think their concerns aren’t shared on the Beltway. Yesterday’s House Small Business Committee hearing on the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program proves truckers aren’t alone in their disgust and frustration.
While CSA as a whole was largely criticized by all members of the committee in one form or fashion, one area in particular that drew fire was the agency’s insistence on counting all crashes – regardless of fault – under the Crash BASIC, or category that scores a company’s crash risk, which is hidden from the public.
During the questioning of the first panel of Deputy Administrator Bill Bronrott and Joe DeLorenzo, Director of the FMCSA Office of Enforcement and Compliance, it became clear that members of the committee did not agree with the agency on holding all crashes against the motor carrier – regardless of fault.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-OH, asked Bronrott what areas of CSA prompts the most feedback to the agency.
“Crash weighting has been one major question that has come up,” Bronrott said. “Currently we’re just looking at involvement without looking at fault. That’s not part of the scoring or rating. That’s not part of what we do.”
Chabot stopped Bronrott from continuing.
“Let me stop you right there if I can, and make sure that I hear you right,” he said. “You said, currently you just take into consideration that an accident happened and that’s counted against you. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. Is that what you said?”
Bronrott responded saying that the agency uses the occurrences of all crashes as an indicator because “there is a very strong, positive correlation between crash involvement and the chance of a future crash.”
“Again, just to be sure that I understand what you are saying. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was; it’s counted,” Chabot said. “(For example), I’m a truck driver. I stop at a traffic light. And someone isn’t paying attention behind me, or perhaps they’re intoxicated. They crash into the back of me. And I’ve done nothing wrong. I was stopping at a red light. You’re saying that would be weighted against me? Yes or no.”
Bronrott deferred to DeLorenzo “just to be clear.”
DeLorenzo replied matter-of-factly: “Yes it is.”
“There’s the answer,” Chabot said.
Rep. Jeff Landry, R-LA, clearly was not pleased with that answer, as he picked up directly where Chabot left off when his time for questions expired.
“How can you hold someone accountable for something that is not their fault?” Landry asked.
Landry continued with what for all intents and purposes was a rhetorical question. If the agency based ineffective regulations on data and studies that were inaccurate and did not reduce highway crashes, “would you resign?”
“How can you hold the American people accountable for something, when we can’t even hold you accountable?” Landry continued. “It’s patently unfair for you to weight someone’s record – to tarnish someone’s record – when it is not their fault. We have a court system that is designed to weight that.”
CSA wasn’t the only issue to take heavy criticism during the hearing. Electronic on-board recorders were also in the sights of a pair of committee members.
Landry was a co-sponsor to Rep. Nick Rahall, D-WV, of an amendment that is currently in the House’s version of the transportation appropriations bill – the bill that allocates money to FMCSA. That amendment, if included in the Senate version of the approps bill as well, will prevent the agency from funding an EOBR mandate.
Landry seized the opportunity of the hearing to question Bronrott on why the agency was pursuing a $2 billion mandate. Bronrott responded saying that, in the end, the industry would save $2 billion.
“The big guys they like it. They implemented already,” Landry said. “Their fleets are so large that’s a better way to manage those fleets. But when you implement it on the little guy, it drives him out of business and the big guy gets bigger,” Landry said.
Landry said he was “sick and tired of that.”
“Because what happens is big corporations come up here. They convince y’all to do something that they want do – they want to use those on-board recorders, that’s their business. But don’t force the little guy out there who’s struggling to make ends meet.”
“It doesn’t add up where I come from,” Landry said.
Bronrott responded that EOBRs will help save the roughly 4,000 fatalities each year in truck-related wrecks.
“So you’re willing – you’re willing to compromise all of these small businesses, the American dream out there. You can’t find a better way to save 4,000 people a year? For 4,000 people, is that right? Four thousand people, we’re going to spend $2 billion,” Landry said.
“That's a cost of 500,000 per person. Maybe we should pay those people not to get on the road. I mean, look, I’m trying to understand because, at some point, there becomes a balance between the industry and the safety.”
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-WA, asked Bronrott why the agency felt the industry as a whole needed the mandate because so many small businesses operate with irregular routes and consistency, such as log haulers in her home state. She noted that one or two people in a small trucking company probably don’t have trouble letting each other know where they are, when they are leaving, etc.
“(An EOBR mandate) just doesn’t seem necessary,” she said.
Bronrott responded that stakeholder groups like the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association serve on committees and provide feedback on issues, rule and regs.
“How many of OOIDA’s recommendations on this issue have you taken into account as you’re pushing this rule?” Herrera Beutler asked.
“I don’t know,” Bronrott responded.
“You don’t know? Any? A couple? A majority? A minority? You really don’t have anything … on that one?” she asked again.
“I just really don’t know,” he replied.